The silver carp is a variety of Asian carp, a freshwater cyprinid fish native to China and eastern Siberia. The fish can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh 100 pounds and were brought to the United States to control algae in catfish ponds and waste-treatment plants in Arkansas and Mississippi. They escaped into rivers after flooding or were released and made their way up the Mississippi River.
This invasive species is now a serious environmental and economic threat to U. S. freshwater environments. A female silver carp can lay up to five million eggs at once. They rapidly eat the bottom part of the food chain in a lake–the phytoplankton and zooplankton. Phytoplankton include algae, which use photosynthesis to produce energy.
Researchers have concluded that the Illinois River has highest concentration of silver carp on the planet where they now account for 70% of the aquatic life. The lurking threat is that the Asian carp reach the Great Lakes. For almost two decades, a population of Asian carp has been multiplying downriver from Chicago. The is a possibility that the fish could transit the Great Lakes Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal on route to the Great Lakes.
In an effort to prevent this, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a key player. In May of 2019, they sent Congress a $778 million proposal to install a series of electric barriers, flushing lock systems and using underwater speakers to bombard the fish with noise. Environmentalists are hoping Congress approves this proposal so that the fish can be stopped at a dam near Joliet, Ill.
Scientists forecast that there is a small window of time to stop this invasive species before it inflicts irreparable damage to the Great Lakes and the $7 billion fishing industry.
The Army Corps proposal represents a compromise between proposals to erect barriers that would seal off Lake Michigan from the river and less drastic measures such as stepped-up commercial fishing. For example, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has contracted with commercial fishing operators and that effort has removed 8.5 million pounds of Asian carp from the upper Illinois River. (The captured fish are processed into non-food products such as fish oil, fertilizer and pet treats).
The Trump administration has made repeated efforts to block this proposal and associated report; the report was finally issued only after the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill to force its release. The administration has felt the influence of cargo carriers who do not want waterways blocked. For example, the American Waterways Operators, which represents the barge industry, gave $108,500 in campaign contributions to the representatives who voted against the appropriations bill. The barge industry’s PAC has donated $50,500.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., does support the “war on Asian carp,” and wants to double ongoing funding to $25 million for efforts in Kentucky made through the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His bill also includes more than $9 million for the U.S. Geological Survey and its work to combat the spread of Asian Carp in Western Kentucky lakes and in the Ohio River and Tennessee River basins.
A total of 28 states are actively lobbying for additional carp management funds.
- Full plan of the Asian Carp Coordinating Committee https://www.asiancarp.us/Documents/2019ActionPlan.pdf
- Alliance for the Great Lakes works to protect that environment https://greatlakes.org/
- Freshwater Future is making a lobbying effort https://freshwaterfuture.org/ourissues/asian-carp/take-action/donate-to-asian-carp-campaign/
- The Great Lakes Basin Partnership to Block Asian Carp is rallying support for immediate implementation of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan https://blockasiancarp.org/
Photo by John Westrock